Contemporary Intimacies and Printmaking – Reexamine / Retrace
Contemporary Intimacies and Printmaking – Reexamine / Retrace

Many things about AAN Gandhara Art Space’s recent exhibition titled Re-examine/ Retrace prompt our admiration. Brainchild of artists and curators Adeel Uz Zafar and R.M Naeem (of Studio R.M), the show centralizes printmaking techniques including woodcut, relief, and line etching that unquestionably refuse to subside despite an increasing shift in creating and showcasing ephemeral and tech-based art in the city. This display includes fresh contemporary prints by twenty-five essentially “non-printmakers” (chosen to inspire a growth in the practice of traditional printmaking in the country’s current arts scene). The prudent curatorial handling is evident atmospherically in the gallery as each work is individually displayed with targeted lighting in labelled sections. Further, the exhibition is the first one in a series of two – the second display that is scheduled for 2022 aims to connect twenty-five more non-print makers.

Highly Regarded Persons and Objects, Sophia Balagamwala, linocut from 1 plate, Somerset 300 gsm, 14 x 14 inches, 2021.

Each artist has created thirty-one editions of their work, out of which twenty-four will be disseminated among their participating peers in the exhibition. “Sharing their prints with every artist is a vital step in this project. This allows these non-printmakers to learn from a different experience than they are used to and enhance their personal collections with these exclusive prints,” says Naeem. 1

Shinas Nama, Syed Hussain, line etching and aquatint from 1 plate, Somerset 300 gsm, 11 x 14 inches, 2021

Printmaking is a scrupulous process that demands perseverance. To achieve a successful print, a medium is used as a ‘matrix’ that can create multiple copies (or prints) of a design incorporated atop the matrix’s surface. For example, in the cases of relief etchings, lines are typically incised into a metal plate that acts as the matrix. This plate undergoes different acid treatments before a dampened paper is exposed to its final surface. The paper atop the metal plate is moved through a press and thus, the etching is transferred in reverse to the paper.

Several artists utilize the popular method of etching. Munawar Ali Syed muses over quarantining in his work where black lines create a subtle and abstracted outdoors while negative space in the print gives silhouettes of an animal and birds flying overhead. Farhat Ali and Ahsan Javaid invoke historical imagery through their detailed prints while other artists including Ahsan Jamal, Aamir Habib, and Madiha Hyder create portraits of their peers and themselves.

Quarantine Diary, Munawar Ali Syed, line etching and dry point from 1 plate Daler Rowney Aquafine 300 gsm, 19.4 x 14 inches, 2021.

A few of the artists including Adeel Uz Zafar, Ahmad Javed, Haider Ali Naqvi, and Muzzumil Ruheel convert their signature images and metaphors into prints. All works in the exhibition are executed in contrasting tones of black and white, except for Wardha Shabbir’s bright mustard coloured work titled “Two of a Kind” which arose out of her earlier sketches the artist made in her student days.

Badshah aur Ghulam, Ahsan Javaid, line etching from 1 plate, Montval 300 gsm, 13 x 16.5 inches, 2021.

Printmaking never left the country’s art scene since its renaissance in the 70s in Pakistan, however, traditional printmaking techniques as opposed to screen printing has experienced a dip in the past few decades. Since printmaking is still practiced by some contemporary artists, Re-examine/Retrace can predict a vigorous resurgence, though this desired and dynamic continuation of the art, if not a full-blown comeback, will be complicated to achieve. If printmaking lies on the left end of the spectrum, then the right end is dominated by contemporary digital art and while this does not thrill traditional art devotees, a bigger percentage of artists that are being showcased in Karachi’s active galleries are progressively relying on digital art media including video, sound, and photography. To top that, the upcoming Karachi Biennale 2022 (KB22), which has been a massive promoter of contemporary (Pakistani and global) art practitioners since 2017 will also be laying a larger emphasis on experimental and digital art practices.

Hypercuboid, Syed Danish Ahmed, aquatint from 2 plates, Montval 300 gsm, 14.5 x 19 inches, 2021.
Two of a Kind, Wardha Shabbir, line etching and aquatint from 1 plate, Somerset 300 gsm, 11.2 x 14.5 inches, 2021.

In tech-savvy art shifts like these, that are born out of technological devices and adapt to online displaying, a well thought out and two-part project like Re-examine/Retrace leaves an active trail for further printmaking projects. These may be thematic or not and offer retrospective prints for display too among other different art forms that continue to bloom and prosper in the contemporary arts scene.

All images courtesy of AAN Gandhara Art Space.

“Re-examine/Retrace” was displayed at AAN Gandhara Art Space in Karachi between 10th June 2021 till 10th July 2021.


  1. R.M Naeem, in conversation with the author, July 06, 2021.

Nageen Shaikh is an art historian and critic, an industrial designer and an academic of social sciences and liberal arts at The Institute of Business Administration (IBA). Her research interests are in the transnational and global perspectives within the evolution, production, and dissemination of art and design in South Asia, and the history of collaborations between materials, art and science. She was previously a Fulbright Scholar at SUNY Stony Brook University and tweets @nageenjs.

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